This is not just a rare insight into the life of a former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, but a revealing account of some historical events and personalities at the time she occupied public office. Her recollections of her childhood days in Lagos and Ekiti would leave anyone who witnessed that period nostalgic.
My mother’s decision:
I was a free-spirited child. I didn’t have a bad childhood at all. I had fun-filled childhood but I had a little bit of what people call nasty experience when my mother decided that I was too playful and sent me to Ekiti. She felt I wasn’t taking my studies seriously at a very tender age. She also thought my dad was spoiling me too much and decided I should go to my paternal uncle in Ado-Ekiti where my two other siblings were at the time. They were very serious about their studies. She forced me to join my siblings when they were returning to school without my father’s knowledge. I also wanted to go because my elder sister was also going. I was so much in love with her to the extent that I emulated whatever she did. I found myself in Ekiti and I was staying with a very tough person. One got beaten easily without committing any serious offence. One day, I had to walk 11 miles as a nine-year-old child to Iyin-Ekiti where my aunt, who was married to a chief, was staying.
Trekking 11 miles
How I did it was by God’s grace and up till today I still wondered how I did that without nobody’s guidance. Nobody prompted or told me to go. I just remembered she was living in that town. When we were coming from Lagos, we stopped at her place and spent the night with her. When there was trouble at the place I was living, I just decided one afternoon after school to go to her place. At that time some people went to school from Iyin-Ekiti to Ado-Ekiti. On that day, after school, I just decided to walk alone and I thought it was an afternoon sun not knowing it was the evening sun. I didn’t get to Iyin-Ekiti until around 9 pm. There were no streetlights at the time, not even electricity. When I got there, I was treated like a queen though I am a princess by birth. Coming from Lagos, I became a leader in many activities and I also discovered I was not a dullard. I was treated with love while growing up.
Beautiful old Lagos. Lagos, in our growing years, was the real Lagos as everywhere was clean. Lagos Island, which is Isale-Eko was very neat and in front of my father’s house, there were flowers. It was not the Lagos of today where everywhere smells because people wait for the government to do things for them. We had what we called Wole Wole, sanitation officers. Growing up in Lagos in those days was fun and during school hours, we used to eat pork even though as a Muslim we are not supposed to eat such meat but nobody cared.
Typical Lagos Island girl
My mother’s decision paved the way for me and I have no regret being taken to Ekiti. She was a visionary woman. She saw the potentials in me and felt that if she didn’t take action I would go the other way. I could have become a typical Lagos Island girl who would have probably been married and had a child at the age of 14. If that had been the case, my talents would have been wasted.
A small city
There was also Tinko, fried meat cut into small pieces, at the time. We knew ourselves then because Lagos was a small city. We also got to know people from different schools because there were quite a few schools in Lagos at the time. There were also lots of neighbourhood activities. There was a masquerade period and the period was a very tough time in Lagos because they used to kill themselves. The masquerades were very fierce and while in my father’s house, we dared not watch them but as children, we always had our ways of sneaking out to watch them.
Lagos was a beautiful city to grow up in and I was always in Lagos every December. During Christmas season at the time, I visited Lagos with changed language and intonation which made people make jest of me. The called me Ara-Oke , someone from the rural area. After I left Ekiti, my tone changed again. I deliberately learned the language and started speaking like them, because I loved it.
Life since leaving office
It has been one mixed bag of the good and the bad. I would leave the ugly out of it. We were thrown out of office unceremoniously. Before the military threw us out of office, we hoped to serve for four years and maybe get another four years if we performed well and barring any unusual event. I had already planned my life because when the call to serve beckoned, I was on top of my game in the banking sector. I had set up my own finance company and I was a non-executive director in the bank after being an executive director. My plan was to run my own finance company. I had just completed the registration of the finance company when I was nominated to be a Deputy Governor. I had to consider the nomination to see what I was going to do because I have always been an active person all my life. I have always been a workaholic. When the election held we were elected against all odds. We were just barely settling down in government when the military struck, thereby destabilising all plans.
For somebody like me who likes doing things in an ethical way, it has not been easy getting myself back to the streamline of the financial world because I have found that since I left, things were being done differently. Many things were not as they should be and we are now seeing the result with the way the economy is.
It has been one long journey. While trying to take things easy, I lost my husband at a point. My husband was my better half in every way. I am a very private person, even though I am in the public glare. He was an “all over the place” person. I had a lot of connection with him.
After he died, I found it difficult to trust people. As a result, I keep myself. I just can’t do things the way people are doing things. I thank God I am a survivor because along the line, I encountered some obstacles like being a victim of the system. I am not guilty of any wrongdoing.
I left Ekiti after primary six for Lagos. I attended Our Lady of Apostle, Ijebu Ode for my secondary education. That period was also very interesting because the Reverend Sisters were very strict and disciplined. They said they had the most beautiful girls because apart from being brilliant, one also had to be beautiful to be admitted into the school. It was a Catholic school for beautiful girls with beautiful character. My youthful days were very enjoyable. From Our Lady of Apostle, I attended Ilesha Grammar School, where I was also regarded as being tough.
IBB has many sides. MKO didn’t hate IBB. He loves his friends. If you are his friend, IBB would make sure you are comfortable. I did not get anything personal from him unless for the fact that it was during his regime that women were lifted. He gave Mariam a free hand to uplift women and that gave us a soft spot for him. If he speaks about June 12, some people in Yoruba land would be lynched. IBB during his time was good to women, at least he approved my appointment as the first executive director in the bank without knowing me. He saw my papers and presentation and he approved my appointment. IBB didn’t need to know you to give you a chance in life, once you were recommended. That was the personal experience I had with him.
Abiola, IBB, Otedola
I was very close to MKO Abiola on a personal basis. I was one of those who told him that I didn’t see any vacancy in Aso Villa but the man was so convinced about the assurance that he was given by General Ibrahim Babangida, IBB. I had a dream and I told him that what I saw was not good. But Abiola was somebody who easily believed people. He shouldn’t have made that declaration and the people who made him to make that declaration should have stood by him.
What I regretted not doing in office was mostly not realising that I should have approached my governor, the late Sir Michael Otedola one-on-one. I so much respected him and I did not know that our tenure was going to be short-lived. I would have spoken to him on many issues. He travelled out and I was determined to do so when he was to come back. Unfortunately, before he came back, the military struck. I was determined at a stage that Baba and I had to sit down eyeball to eyeball and it was going to be a break or make meeting, unfortunately, we were unable to have that meeting. He did not delegate powers to me when he was travelling because he didn’t say he was going to be away for long. Even when the soldiers struck, I had to get his contact from the Secretary to the State Government to talk to him.
Relationship with Otedola
My relationship with Otedola was not uncordial but there was no closeness. As at that time, he was already being given the impression that I was after this job. He had bad representation in the media when we were in office. People were criticising him for being cold and some talked about his age. Some talked about his health and I was all over the places, being invited by the corporate and social world to do things. We had the crisis of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and I had to make a state broadcast while he was away, which he didn’t like. The broadcast was to curtail the insecurity at the time.
When he came back, he was not happy that I made the broadcast but people told him at that time that Lagos was boiling and I had to come out to allay fears, which doused tension and made people so happy. Before I made that broadcast, people were already trying to leave Lagos in droves. I had to go from local government to local government, talking to people and reassuring them that Lagos was safe. He didn’t like all that but it was not my making because he was not on the seat and being his lieutenant, I had to take the bull by the horn. Since our relationship was not that cordial after he came back and certain personal things also happened between us, I had already made up my mind for us to talk eyeball to eyeball but I never got that chance.
Going to Ekiti was one. There was a drama we acted when I was in Lagos at Ereko Methodist. That drama which was about Samson and Delilah had a great influence on me.
The lesson I learned from it shaped my thinking about the man-woman relationship at my early stage in life. This is why when people are dealing with children, they must be careful about the kind of things they expose them to. In Ekiti, I stayed in the house of a chief who was more like a king and in that house, there were many wives. My aunty was one of the wives and the way the man handled his home and also the affairs of his community shaped the way I relate with people, especially when I became the Deputy Governor. I was put in charge of the chieftaincy affairs. My early childhood relationship in that house shaped me a lot because the old man used to allow me to sit with him whenever they were having a hearing on community matters. These are some of the things that really shaped my life. I was also at an early age exposed to commerce. My mum was a trader in Ereko and my aunty who I went to live with was also into commerce. These were the things that really had a lot of influence on my life and shaped me into becoming a responsible person.
Another chance to serve
I would never opt to be a Deputy unless things are changing from the way they are now. Because naturally, I am not somebody who would sit idle without participating in a task I am supposed to be a major actor. If I come back again by any reason as governor of a state, I would focus on things that would improve the lives of the people. Many of them use their hard-earned money to do things that supposed to have been taken care of by the government. Look at the transportation system, I would improve the transport system in such a way that it would be like that of Great Britain. Transportation means a lot to me because it makes it easier for people to go about their business easily.
Also the road network, I will follow the path of a former governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, which Governor Akinwunmi Ambode also tried to do. Jakande opened Lagos to what Lagos is today by opening roads into areas even Lagosians did not know existed. Lagos is not doing badly with education, but the education level has fallen below the standard and this is because most of the trainers themselves are not well trained.
Abiola was betrayed. If they had stood by him, the story would have been different. They would have clamped all Yoruba race into detention and we would not have what we had after. It is unfortunate. I was in the other side, I was in the NRC, of course, we couldn’t support him publicly; that would have amounted to breaking down of laws and regulations of the party but I was with him. On Election Day, everybody voted MKO Abiola and you could see that people wanted him but unfortunately, he went the way it went. That is one great president we all missed because he would have changed Nigeria from a humanitarian point of view and also from his entrepreneurial skill ambition. And I am happy at the way President Muhammadu Buhari has honoured him. I am very happy that he has finally being recognised as the one who won that election and he should have been president.